“Can I help at all?”
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., didn’t waste time Monday morning unloading and distributing food at the Arlington Food Assistance Center on South Nelson Street.
The center, which currently serves about 1,500 families each week, was handing out Thanksgiving dinner to the county’s less fortunate residents. They received turkey – large families got two birds – stuffing mix, potatoes, vegetables and a dessert.
“I recognize some of these folks,” said Moran, who walked about a mile to the center from his Shirlington residence.
“These are all working families, but not making enough to pay the rent in Arlington and provide adequately to feed their families.”
The center has about 2,200 active referrals for assistance. Its current client roster breaks down to about 2,500 adults and 1,500 children.
Referrals typically last 12 weeks and are issued by churches or government agencies that can help a person find other services – the state Department of Social Services, for example.
About 65 percent of the center’s food is donated. Area grocers like Giant, Safeway and Trader Joe’s top the list of contributors.
Local Boy Scouts, through the annual Scouting for Food program, recently collected 61,000 pounds of nonperishable items – a record at the Arlington center, Executive Director Charles Frederick Meng said.
“One of the things we have a lot of is community support – and we get it from everybody,” Meng said.
“All of the county board members are donors. (Board member) Walter Tejada and his wife volunteer here. So, we get support from the top. And our volunteers see the congressman here and recognize how important it is to feed the hungry. Because the bottom line is these are our neighbors.”
Meng added: “(Moran) being here really helps get the word out in the community.”
Moran’s visit was part of the “Jim Pitches In” series of events designed to highlight local nonprofits, their volunteers and the work they do.
Moran said he’s invited to a lot of fundraisers, so seeing how individual organizations operate helps him pick and choose what to support.
“This organization is one of the finest food providers for people living with hunger in the Washington area,” Moran said. “It’s almost all volunteer. It’s efficient. It’s a model of ways to feed people who don’t have the adequate means to feed their families.”
The Arlington Food Assistance Center’s annual budget is about $5 million. That includes about $500,000 worth of volunteer time and more than $2 million worth of donated food, Meng said.
The organization receives $375,000 from Arlington County. It does not receive any state or federal funds.
The food pantry has 17 staff members and a core group of about 400 volunteers – resident Norman Lamberg, for instance, has volunteered three times a week for more than seven years.
The center sees another 1,000 volunteers help out on an intermittent basis, Meng said.
The organization distributes about 3.5 million pounds of food per year, or about 250,000 pounds per month. That number typically rises around holidays.
This year, the center also saw an increase at the end of September, which Meng said indicates the base number of people who need help in Arlington is growing.
Before heading to the food pantry, Moran gave a speech on cybersecurity in Washington.